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Claiming fraternities that illegally permit widespread alcohol consumption have an unfair advantage over those that don’t, the family of an 18-year-old who died during a fraternity hazing have filed a suit relying on California’s unfair competition law. The suit alleges that as part of an initiation ritual into the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, Adrian Heideman of Palo Alto, Calif., was given and encouraged to consume so much blackberry brandy that he later choked on his own vomit in the fraternity’s basement while his “brothers” were entertained by strippers upstairs. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Von Loewenfeldt of Kerr & Wagstaffe, said that while wrongful death suits claiming negligence against fraternities are common, he believes this is the first time the broadly worded California Business and Professions Code 17200 is being used against a fraternity. “When some frats comply with the law and others don’t, there’s a competitive advantage,” said Von Loewenfeldt, who pointed out that fraternities collect dues and compete for new members each fall. “We consider [17200] one of the proper tools to stop this unfair practice from going forward.” David Brown, the Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison lawyer who is representing Nike in a suit that also uses Section 17200, said he questions whether it can be shown that the fraternity is a business. But Von Loewenfeldt said he’s not concerned about that: “The term ‘business’ is pretty broadly defined under the statute, and there are cases where it shows fraternal organizations are businesses,” he said. Brown also pointed out that 17200 would have no impact on the damages the plaintiffs could seek, because the statute cannot be used to sue for damages. “To the extent you could get an attorney’s fee out of it if there is that reward,” he said. “And to the extent that the main plaintiffs would have satisfaction that this wrong is right, they would get their injunction and satisfaction.” The suit names the Chico State University chapter of the fraternity, its North Carolina headquarters and eight of its members. It alleges that the fraternity’s institutional alcohol consumption rituals led to Heideman’s death. Causes cited in the suit also include the violation of state law and numerous counts of negligence. It seeks unnamed damages, legal fees, an order enjoining Pi Kappa Phi from providing alcoholic beverages to people under 21 and an order requiring the fraternity to relinquish all earnings and profits. It was not clear Tuesday who is representing the fraternity. Michael and Edith Heideman, Adrian’s parents, are the plaintiffs in Michael Heideman v. Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, 321537, filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.

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